It's finally here! To say that I have been looking forward to this score is a huge understatement. As a fan of the Harry Potter books and the music of John Williams it has almost been painful to wait... So my expectations were high. Was it worth the wait? You bet! Although I don't love it, I really, really like it (as a friend, of course...) and I'm quite sure that Williams' score at least will get an Academy Award nomination. Who knows, John Williams might even walk home with a golden boy in his pocket.
After having heard "Hedwig's Theme" in the trailers for the film, many expected the score for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (or the Philospher's Stone) to be in the same style as the composers' wonderful score for Hook, and this is certainly one of the largest reasons so many have been looking forward to this score. And sure, the score for Harry Potter is in many ways similar to John Williams' music for Steven Spielberg's embarrasing Peter Pan flick. Similarities can for example be found in the orchestrations - this is classic Williams, the kind of sound that most people normally associate with the composer. It's brassy, melodic, upbeat, adventureous and lively, complete with swirling strings and woodwinds. While listening to Harry Potter it is also easy to think about the composers' scores for Star Wars and Home Alone. The score shares the playful woodwinds with the former score, and the warm Christmas sound with the latter, something achieved with the use of celesta, bells and wordless female choir.
On to the thematic material, then. There is an abundance of themes in this score. Large and small they are all quite memorable, especially the theme for Hedwig, the beautiful music representing Harry himself and the extremely catchy and proud little march representing Hogwarts (that is my guess, anyway). I suppose that most of you are familiar with Hedwig's Theme, since it was used in the trailers and have been performed at several concerts prior to the films' release, with bootleg recordings of it floating around. It is used throughout the entire score and shows up in a large number of cues, sometimes performed by grand brass and other times by lush strings, or by subtle celesta. The extensive use of this theme makes me wonder if it is really only used to represent Harry's white owl. One part of the theme shows up in "Mr Longbottom Flies", for example, suggesting that this is the scores' "flying theme". It is certainly grand and glorious enough to be used as such.
The theme for Harry himself is presented for the first time in the second track of the CD, "Harry's Wonderous World", which without doubt is one of the very finest cues this score has to offer. Harry's theme is simply wonderful. Consisting of two sections it starts with a lush string based part, followed by a more fanfare sounding, optimistic little ditty, revolving around a four note phrase and with orchestrations dominated by brass. Classic Williams. Had the entire score been like this, this soundtrack would have gotten 5 shiny stars. Not that the rest of the score is bad, but at times the mysterious, sneeking around music dominates a little too much. I suppose I wanted the score to be a little more adventurous and grand...
"The Quidditch Match" is the scores' large action piece. Clocking in at over eight minutes this is a lively and bold piece, dominated by brass and percussion. More action can be found in "The Chess Game", which is a very militaristic cue, with tons of percussion, such as snare drum, timpani and xylophone, but "The Quidditch Match" holds the most memorable and entertaining action music on the album.
Exellent Christmas music can be found in "The Norwegian Ridgeback and A Change of Season", with the latter part of the cue offering some really lovely music, reminding me of Hook and Home Alone. "Christmas at Hogwarts" is an excellent piece. Opening with bells and woodwinds it is soon followed by a small number of voices (the ghosts of Hogwarts perhaps?) singing a Christmas song in sotto voce, supported by eerie synths, which in turn is replaced by some great holiday inspired music.
Although most of the score is far from original, some cues are actually quite unconventional, such as "Diagon Alley and The Gringotts Vault", which sounds like it is arranged for Renaissance - or at least really old - instruments, as well as fiddle and different flutes. "The Invisibility Cloak and The Library Scene" has some subtle, spooky synths representing Harry's invisibility cloak, while "Fluffy's Harp" is an amusing little duet for harp and bassoon.
All in all, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone isn't exactly what I expected it to be, but it's darn close and it is certainly one of the best scores of 2001. Fans of Hook, Home Alone and Star Wars will probably appreciate this score. I'm rather sure that I will love it after hearing it in the actual film.